By Ante Ajeluorou
It was Saturday, September 28, 2013 at the palace of Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, Ooni of Ife, and the surrounding streets and avenues were filled with noble citizens of Ile-Ife, who had trouped out in their thousands to celebrate one of their warrior obas, the legendary Oranmiyan, son of Oduduwa and the 6th Ooni of Ife. From the festive mood that pervaded the air, it was clear that Oranmiyan was an ancient monarch, who still occupied a significant place in the hearts of Ife people and the Yoruba race at large.
Although festivities celebrating Oranmiyan had been held in low key these years, it was not until Flabsy Travel and Tours Ltd came into the picture as Oranmiyan Festival Consultants that things took turns for the better. With this outing, which lasted from September 26 – 28, Ile-Ife people can now look forward to Oranmiyan Festival gaining the status of a world-class festival in no distant time.
At the height of the festival on Saturday, throngs of Ife people came out in the sheer delight of honouring their ancestor. Oranmiyan was the only oba to have reigned in many separate kingdoms – as the first Alaafin of Oyo, Osile of Oke-Ona in Egbaland, Ile-Ife and Benin. With this legendary status, Oranmiyan Festival is being projected as a symbol of unity among the Yoruba nation. His warlike nature ensured that he did not only conquer, but he also ruled over the conquered people and spread his leadership skills among them.
During the festival, Oranmiyan’s most prominent symbol, Opa Oranmiyan or Oranmiyan staff or obelisk on Oroto Street, Ife, played a unifying and rallying role. Although the Ooni himself was supposed to receive obeisance from chiefs and other obas, it was believed that age and possible ill-health prevented him from coming out to be part of the overflowing love and adoration his illustrious ancestor generated among his people. But his palpable absence did not dampen the enthusiasm of the people. Knowledge that their beloved Olubuse II was at earshot from the momentous gathering was enough.
Many prominent chiefs clad in flowing white agbadas sat in rows on one side of the famous staff abode, as it towered into the sky. Several men and woman came in to offer prayers and seek their ancestor’s favours in various ways and promptly threw in money at the base of the obelisk as tokens of appreciation. It was such moving spectacle as both young and old showed devotion to their venerated ancestor, whom they’d also deified.
On Oroto Street, where Oranmiyan Staff is located, scores of Osun State’s Apalara Brigade stood in rows of two as guard of honour to those moving in and out of the area, where police had cordoned off to stop vehicular movement in and out of the street.
Earlier, two colourful floats had done their rounds in major streets and avenues of Ife, with two giant replicas of Oranmiyan Staffs in tow. It was quite a spectacle to behold.
At the Ooni’s palace ground, scores of dancers and drummers were on hand to entertain the innumerable visitors who had made it a mecca of sorts. Dane guns boomed just outside the huge tent that was erected in the vast palace ground. In some other parts of the country, canons would have be used; they obviously boom louder than Dane guns. But the Dane guns just met the purpose, as they usually heralded a momentous event such as this one, the celebration of a great ancestor that departed centuries ago, but whose footprints remain forever indelible in the consciousness of the Yoruba race.
BACK at Oroto Street, just outside where Oranmiyan Staff enclosure, the final contest of drummers was in full swing. Traditional Yoruba drumming was promoted as a major highlight of the festival. Flabsy Travels and Tours Ltd conceived it to serve as a way of sustaining one of the many arts of Yoruba origin. Yoruba’s gungun, bata and dundun drums are reputable talking instruments that closely mimic spoken Yoruba language and they require a great deal of dexterity to play them to desired effect.
Different groups applied to partake in the contest. With former football coach, Chief Festus Onigbinde and folk artist and Jimi Solanke as judges, the stage was set for a memorable outing. The event was held on an open street with the local people taking part either in applauding or deriding the drummers or swaying to the throbbing drums, it made the contest an inclusive one. At a point, Onigbinde got up from his judge’s chair to show what dancing skills he possessed. The crowd cheered endlessly. Also, stirred to distraction by the throbbing drums, three local Ife women stepped into the small arena to give the audience value for their time, as they wriggled, twisted and did leg calisthenics to the rhythms of the drums to the cheering delight of the crowd.
The overall winner, Chief Jacob Adereti, got a tabletop fridge, the second runner up took home a handbag generator and third place got pressing iron. But it is strange how over four or five drummers will share these single winning items that were provided by Grand Oak Ltd, makers of Seaman’s Schnapps.
The previous evening at the forecourt of the Ooni, both male and female ayo players had taken their turns in a contest to determine the best Ife ayo players. The ayo was carved the shape of a bottle of new-look Seaman’s Royale. With a cheering crowd also at the players’ elbows, it provided great fun and entertainment. Winners were also given prizes of generators, fridges, pressing irons and umbrellas also provided by one of Oranmiyan Festival sponsors, Grand Oak Ltd.
THE overriding theme for Oranmiyan Festival was ‘Promoting Yoruba Unity through her History’, which is apt as Oranmiyan symbolises the cultural history of the Yoruba, its strong monarchical structure, which he embodied in his reign in four disparate kingdoms. To amplify the symbolic position Oranmiyan still occupies in Yoruba nation, the festival lecture was titled, ‘Oranmiyan: What is a Name?’ It was held at Oduduwa Hall, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and delivered by one of the monarchs whose kingdom Oranmiyan ruled, Oke-Ona, Oba (Dr.) Adedapo Adewale Tejuoso, Karunwi III, the Osile Oke-Ona; he is only Yoruba monarch who bears the Oranmiyan name as title, a title Oba Tejuoso said he got through divine revelation.
Before the lecture, a libation was generously poured in honour of Oranmiyan by Alayeluwa Oba Adedapo Aderemi, Alayemore of Ido-Osun. He offered prayers for the wellbeing of all Yoruba wherever they may be residing and for the success of the festival.
At the lecture, prominent Yoruba leaders enjoined all Yoruba to embrace peace and promote unity among themselves, so as to fast track development in all parts of Yoruba nation. In particular, Oba Tejuoso enjoined all Yoruba to stop all wars and needless bickering and rivalries capable of derailing meaningful progress.
Tejuoso, who affirmed his strong Christian bellief, and flanked by his three wives or oloris, lent a strong Christian leaning to his exposition of the character of Oranmiyan and declared him to have had excellent Christian virtues having also descended from the Jewish line. He quoted many biblical passages to buttress his points. However, a section of the audience wanted the oba to deliver his lecture in Yoruba, noting that Oranmiyan didn’t speak or hear English during his time. But the Kabiyesi didn’t ascent to their demands, asking those who didn’t understand English to ask their children instead to interpret for them.
Also, with Tejuoso’s lecture tending more towards the Jewish origin of Oranmiyan and not the traditionally held folk narratives, a section of the audience began to leave the hall. He only expressed happiness that those who would remain would have the benefit of getting a copy of the lecture in book form.
In particular, three Yoruba leaders, governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, the Ooni, and Tejuoso said Oranmiyan left important lasting legacies for the Yoruba people. Tejuoso described him as nation-builder, bridge-builder of understanding and an excellent leader, who deepened the institution of monarchy in Yorubaland.
Also Sijiwade highlighted the importance of understanding history in sustaining and strengthening bonds of unity and harmony and not division, stating, “Knowing the past helps us to understand the culture of today. The celebration of our cultural heritage helps us to sustain our own cultural identity”. He commended the governments in Yoruba states in “assisting in maintaining the cultural identity and strengthening the emotional, cultural and spiritual bonds that bind them to their origin, Ile-Ife, the Source”.
Sijuwade cautioned against the bastardization and politicisation of Yoruba tradition and culture and enjoined children to recognise, respect and appreciate their cultural heritage. He also tasked tourists to visit Ife to see the symbols of ancient Oranmiyan paraphernalia of office including his Opa Oranmiyan among others.
Also, the governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, who was represented by Secretary to Osun State Government, Moshood Olelakan Adeoti, commended festival consultants, Flabsy Travel and Tours Ltd and Ife people for celebrating Oranmiyan. While speaking on ‘Celebrating Yoruba’s Common Heritage, Forging Common Front’, Aregbesola stated that celebrating culture should serve as bond of unity and rally point for all Yoruba people, noting that in celebrating Oranmiyan, “we’re identifying with the character of Oranmiyan, who had adept leadership qualities, virtues of compassion, which leaders of today should emulate”.
Aregbesola said it was these qualities in Oranmiyan that made him to adopt him as his campaign symbol and which also enabled him to defeat his strong political enemies during his tussle for Osun State governorship. He also noted that celebrating Oranmiyan would bring enlightenment to young people and tasked all Yoruba people to use the festival to fortify the walls of unity and forge a common tie. He harped on the importance of using festivals in Nigeria to accelerate economic development by developing all tourism sites and actively promoting same, so as to attract tourists from all over the world.
The Federal Government, Aregbesola noted, should strengthen security, provide infrastructure, help states to develop tourism sites across the country so as to attract tourists as a means of boosting economic development.